The release of Eighth Edition in 2003 marked the 10th anniversary of Magic. To commemorate this, WOTC made sure that at least one card from every legal set appeared in 8th. While that had its hits (Plow Under) and misses (Vampiric Spirit), the other promotion they ran was a huge success. “Selecting Eighth Edition” was the players’ chance to affect the 10th anniversary set. In addition to choosing which cards would make it in via a series of 12 votes, players also got to choose art and flavor text for some of their favorite cards.
With 8th Edition having just ridden off into the sunset for 9th, it’s time to look back at those 12 card votes and see how they affected the game. Which ones made an impact on Constructed play? Which ones didn’t matter at all? Which ones left some players shaking their heads? We’ll cover them all today.
In my last column, talking about 9th Edition’s impact on Extended, I had this to say about Yawgmoth Demon, which got in over Havoc Demon via player vote:
“Yawgmoth Demon, by contrast, is awful in Limited, and doesn’t have a home in Constructed. Are you going to play this in Affinity? I think not. Whoever voted for this large pile of ass is a moron. Thanks for subjecting us to nine years of suckitude in Extended, clownshoes.”
While the article is just as awesome as anything my prodigious brain has ever conceived [Gather 'round, ladies! -Ed], I think there was a lot of focus on that comment. While I maintain that Havoc Demon is the superior card – and, thus, the better choice in the vote – my remarks were unfair and went far beyond making the point. I honestly expected them to be stricken in editing, but I wrote the lines, so I’ll take the bullets for doing so. I’m apologizing for those remarks now, for two reasons: (1) as I said, they were unfair and beyond the scope of simply taking exception with the voting result, and (2) I’m a judge and this is a public forum, and I don’t want any of you to get a bad impression of the judge program from some throwaway remark I wrote.
(And if you thought the Yawgmoth Demon remarks were bad, just you wait until we get to Glorious Anthem over Crusade. ;))
Here are the dirty dozen card votes we’ll be looking at:
-- Two-Headed Dragon defeated Crimson Hellkite
-- Nekrataaldefeated Dark Hatchling
-- Rewind defeated Dismiss
-- Ensnaring Bridge defeated Static Orb
-- Noble Purpose defeated Orim's Prayer
-- Birds of Paradise and Vine Trellis defeated Llanowar Elves and Utopia Tree
-- Worshipdefeated Pariah and Kismet
-- Obliterate defeated Jokulhaups
-- Blood Moon defeated Dwarven Miner
-- Natural Affinity defeated Nature's Revolt
-- Yavimaya Enchantress defeated Rabid Wombat
-- Glorious Anthem defeated Crusade
Two-Headed Dragon d. Crimson Hellkite
I like this one. Two-Headed Dragon saw some play in the halcyon days of Fires of Yavimaya decks. While it never really caught on in 8th Edition Standard, it wasn’t because of the card quality. The Dragon is well-costed for its abilities, and since you’re already playing Red, you can make the Dragon effectively unblockable quite easily. Crimson Hellkite, on the other hand, costs a lot more for a less impressive creature overall. Sure, it has better power/toughness figures, but on the whole, Two-Headed Dragon is the superior card and deserved to win the vote.
Nekrataal d. Dark Hatchling
He's not even human!
Another one goes in the win column. Dark Hatchling does fly, and it can snipe artifact creatures when it comes into play, but do those advantages make it worth six mana? It’s my opinion that they don’t, and the majority of voters agreed with me. Nekrataal is better because you want your creature removal to be cheaper than the creature it’s removing. You can fudge that a little when you’re gaining a body in the process, but six mana is still a lot to pay. Nekrataal is very reminiscent of Flametongue Kavu (actually, that’s the other way around, but you get the point), and how ubiquitous do you think FTK would have been had he cost 5R? Also, Dark Hatchling would have most likely remained in the rare slot, while Nekrataal is a very nice fit at uncommon, meaning he’s easier for casual players to acquire, and affects Limited environments more readily.
Rewind d. Dismiss
Well, so much for that winning streak.
I understand why Counterspell left the basic sets, and I think it was a good decision. Making a hard counter cost 1UU is fine (I’d look for Hinder to make it into 10th, since it’s not overpowered and has no block-specific mechanics to hold it back). Giving us one at 2UU is also fine, but the extra mana has to have a tangible extra benefit to it. With Dismiss, you get to draw a card, and we know from previous cantrips that drawing a card costs between 1 and 2 mana (compare Repulse and Exclude, for example, to their originals, Unsummon and Remove Soul), so getting it for 1 is a bargain. That’s a tangible benefit. Untapping lands is not. It doesn’t help you at all in a counter war, since you don’t untap your lands until Rewind actually resolves, and your opponent can just play a counter of their own in response.
The best use I saw for Rewind was in the U/W Control decks that were popular when Onslaught Block was still in T2. Because of the sauciness of cycling Decree of Justice at the end of your opponent’s turn, untapping lands was a nice perq. Untapping several copies of Cloudpost was a nicer perk. Untapping several copies of Cloudpost while your opponent had several of his own was a crazy nice perk. Just tap two Islands and your four Cloudposts for 16UU (or more, if your opponent also had Cloudposts), then untap the Cloudposts when Rewind resolves. Cycle Decree of Justice, add the 14 floating to whatever else you’re using to pay for it, and make several barracks’ worth of soldiers. Untap and win target game.
Outside of that narrow use, though, Rewind is definitely inferior to Dismiss. Considering that both counterspells and card-drawing have been weakened in recent years, getting both on the same card for a decent price should have been seen as a boon. Instead, Rewind got the nod, and remained in 9th Edition. Alas.
Ensnaring Bridge d. Static Orb
This one ended up not mattering overmuch. The tools to build a good Burning Bridges deck left when 8th Edition came into the mix and Odyssey Block left Standard. Static Orb is best with things that let you tap permanents, like Opposition. “Orb-osition” was a competitive deck in 7th-era Standard for a while, relying on the saucy interaction between Static Orb and Opposition (tap the Orb at the end of your opponent’s turn, untap all your permanents since Orb “shuts off” when tapped, then keep your opponent locked down). Static Orb can still be played in Extended, where its partner Opposition is still legal, but recent Opposition builds have not needed the Orb.
Noble Purpose d. Orim’s Prayer
Noble Purpose is obviously a darling of casual players, who tend to love lifegain more than they should. It made no impact on Standard since it doesn’t really fit into any deck. A White Weenie deck doesn’t need to Spirit Link all its men, especially not for 3WW, and a White-based control deck has better things to do with its five mana. Orim’s Prayer, on the other hand, could have seen some play as a sideboard card against aggressive decks. Unable to waltz with its usual dance partner Humility, Orim’s Prayer would not have been able to “zero out” the opponent’s combat phase. What it would have done is buy a W/X control deck time to find its board sweeper. We’ll never know how effective or ineffective it may have been, but Noble Purpose came and went from Standard without so much as a whimper. That means the wrong card won.
Birds of Paradise and Vine Trellis d. Llanowar Elves and Utopia Tree
This might be a controversial opinion, but I think the wrong cards won.
Away, foul Slith Firewalker, away!
Away, foul Slith Firewalker, away!
When this vote was first announced, I read some forum posts on other sites, encouraging people to vote for Elves and Utopia Tree so that a playset of Birds, at $15 each, would no longer be required for Type 2 play. That was a case of wanting the right result for the wrong reasons. To see why I think this vote should have gone the other way, let’s look at each individual choice.
Birds v. Elves: The quintessential Green mana accelerators, this duo had been in the basic sets together since Alpha. When R&D announced they were splitting them up, it sent shockwaves throughout the player community. The majority of players sided with Birds of Paradise (yes, I think this battle was much more of a factor than Vine Trellis v. Utopia Tree). The problem is, Elves are the more traditional Green creature, by far. Elves are a longstanding part of fantasy fiction and art, always noted for their affinity with the forest (but not Affinity for forests). Birds are the domain of White and Blue. Green just doesn’t get good fliers, and Birds of Paradise definitely qualifies as a good flier.
The cards are different in the respect that they enable different decks. Llanowar Elves lend themselves to a mono-Green or mostly Green strategy, while Birds of Paradise encourage multicolored play with Green as the base color. This is why they’ll be back in Ravnica, of course. The two blocks we’ve seen in Standard since this happened have not required Birds over Elves: Mirrodin Block was dominated by artifacts, Affinity, Big Red, and what was at the time called “12-Post”; Kamigawa Block has its own wealth of Green mana-fixing ability. Llanowar Elves would have been fine in Standard these past two years. Besides, when you have similar cards like this, the one that attacks better should get the nod. Llanowar Elves can attack for 1 (and if you remember my GP Boston report, you’ll recall that I lost a game where my opponent ended up at 1 life because I failed to attack once with my Elves), while Birds need some form of help to have a positive power. They are surprisingly capable swordsmen, though, aren’t they?
In my mind, Llanowar Elves was the clear choice, for flavor and for practicality reasons.
Vine Trellis v. Utopia Tree: Utopia Tree is a card which could have been good, but instead ended up being a nice pile of suck. Why it’s only an 0/2 when Vine Trellis is an 0/4 has always been a point of mystery. It’s elementary, my dear Watson, that Vine Trellis is a Wall, and can thus have a higher toughness, but it’s also a common. Utopia Tree is not a wall, but who’s going to get in there with their big 0/2 that lacks any form of evasion? As a non-Wall, I feel it could have been an 0/3. Making it an 0/3 would have made it semi-useful, in fact: it was worthless in Invasion Block because the format was defined by 2/2s, which Utopia Tree could not block and survive. As an 0/3 (or an 0/4 Wall), it would have seen more play.
Vine Trellis found a home in Green decks as an answer to Slith Firewalker. Red decks had a hard time killing the 0/4, taking either two spells, or a Firewalker hit plus a burn spell to finish it off. Tooth and Nail began playing it as a way to shore up the Red matchup, since it held the pesky Firewalker at bay, and also helped the deck get up to the magical 7GG it needed, even in the face of land destruction.
Had the pairing been Elves and Vine Trellis, I think the right side would have won. We got the right decision, just two years later than we should have. And while I maintain that Birds and Trellis should have been the losing pair, they did have a good effect on Standard while they were legal, so the result was positive nonetheless.
Worship d. Pariah and Kismet
This was the right call. Worship is a card that really belongs in the basic set, since it shows off a key ability of White. This requires a creature you can count on to stick around, so it shows up as a sideboard card in decks which can support it. Recently, mono-Green decks have begun sideboarding Worship, usually against Red, which has a problem removing Troll Ascetic and Iwamori of the Open Fist. Pariah is a solid card, and also showcases an important White ability, but it’s inferior to Worship as a solution for damage. Kismet doesn’t really feel like a White card to me, and in fact, was nearly functionally reprinted as Orb of Dreams. Good call here, voters.
Obliterate d. Jokulhaups
This is one that I’m honestly torn on. I like the uncounterability of Obliterate, but in an era where counterspells are weaker than before, that’s less important. Either works as a reset button, but Obliterate is better there because it can’t be countered. Obliterate saw play for a while in Standard, used as the board sweeper in a deck also featuring March of the Machines and Darksteel Ingot. Jokulhaups does the same work, at (2) less, but it’s vulnerable to the duplicitous ways of the Islands. Neither really serves as a finisher a la Armageddon in old White Weenie decks, since they blow up creatures and artifacts, too. My gut tells me the right call was made, since an uncounterable global reset button is useful against control decks, foiling their plans once they’ve managed to wrest the game away from the Red decks.
Blood Moon d. Dwarven Miner
Who didn’t want Dwarven Miner to win? It mentions rutabagas in the flavor text, for heaven’s sake! Any card which references obscure European plants commonly used as livestock feed is a winner to me. Magic: fun and educational.
Seriously, I think this is another one the voters got right. If I’m going to hose some nonbasic lands, I want to unroll the bloody thing, turn the water on full power and blast them with a stream that could douse a four-alarm blaze in minutes. Blood Moon lets you do that. Nonbasic lands become mountains, and the Red mana is not the way of enchantment removal. Dwarven Miner, on the other hand, does destroy nonbasic lands, but as a 1/2 creature, he’s quite fragile. A mere garden hose will not do for the nonbasic hate, friends. The Miner used to see a lot of play in 5-Color decks around here, but his popularity there has waned, too, even in an environment packed with nonbasics. The reason is his fragility. This is my proposed new Oracle text for Dwarven Miner:
Creature – Dwarf
Sacrifice Dwarven Miner: Search your opponent’s hand for an instant or sorcery spell that will destroy this card. Your opponent plays that spell.
, T: Do nothing, since this ability does not work in the graveyard.
In the context of 5-Color, I’ve referred to Dwarven Miner as “a Duress for .” He is, but if you’re going to play Duress, you shouldn’t pay more than B for it.
Natural Affinity d. Nature's Revolt
Turning lands into creatures is supposed to be a surprise that leads to an alpha strike. In the interests of not playing fair, it should also be a one-sided effect. Neither of these gives you the one-sidedness that Rude Awakening provides, so it comes down to which one is better for the surprise alpha strike. To me, the clear answer is Natural Affinity. First of all, it costs less, allowing you to have two more lands to attack with compared to Nature’s Revolt; the extra four damage can be important if you’re swinging for the win. Second, Natural Affinity’s effect only lasts until end of turn, meaning your opponent can’t turn his lands sideways and attack back if you fail to kill him. Nature’s Revolt gives him that chance. Its lower cost and better use in alpha striking mean this was the right call.
Yavimaya Enchantress d. Rabid Wombat
Here’s a vote that never really impacted Standard. Reprinting the Enchantress in 8th Edition allowed it to stay in Extended longer, and that format has always been friendlier to Enchantress strategies. This season will be a litmus test for the archetype, with a lot of good enchantments rotating out come October. Even with Yavimaya Encantress, Extended decks using the Enchantress engine tended to be the combo version, winning with gobs of card drawing plus Words of Wind. Rabid Wombat, on the other hand, is an awful creature. Who pays 2GG for a 0/1? I guess if you put three Rancors on it, it’s good, but any creature is good with +6/+0 and trample.
Even though neither card made a splash, the Enchantress was still the right call.
Glorious Anthem d. Crusade
Save the anthems, it's clobberin' time
Urge to kill . . . rising . . .
I said I’d be nice, didn’t I? That’s unfortunate.
This was the absolutely, 100%, unequivocally wrong decision, and one that soured me on the whole players-voting-for-cards process. Considering these effects are only playable in White Weenie, why would you pay more mana than you need to to pump all your guys? “But omg if I play Crusade my opps mens get bigger too!!!11!” That line of thinking, I am certain, is the reason that Glorious Anthem won this vote. Some players were worried about Crusade benefiting their opponent’s creatures as well.
If you’re playing the White mirror with Crusade, then you have two options for it. 1. Outplay your opponent. 2. Board out your Crusades, hope he leaves his in, and make sure your board situation takes advantage of it better. Glorious Anthem is the safer card for the WW mirror, sure, but it’s orders of magnitude worse than Crusade in every other matchup. Consider these initial turns, one with Anthem and one with Crusade in its place, using creatures found in today’s WW builds.
Turn 1: Isamaru.
Turn 2: Leonin Skyhunter, attack for 2.
Turn 3: Glorious Anthem, attack for 6.
Turn 4: Lantern Kami, Hand of Honor, attack for 6 again.
Turn 1: Isamaru.
Turn 2: Leonin Skyhunter, attack for 2.
Turn 3: Crusade, attack for 6, Lantern Kami.
Turn 4: Hand of Honor, attack for 8, play a 1-drop or 2-drop.
In the Glorious Anthem scenario, you’ve dealt 14 damage by the end of your fourth turn. In the Crusade scenario, you’ve dealt 16 damage by the end of your fourth turn. Do you really think that 2 damage doesn’t matter in this game? How many times have you lost when your opponent ended the game at 1 or 2 life? By playing Crusade, you’ve essentially played Shock on your opponent for free. If he’s playing a control deck and manages to Wrath the board here, he’s at 4, not 6. Celestial Kirin after his Wrath is a lethal threat if he’s at 4, while it’s a two-turn clock if he’s at 6. Why give your opponent an extra turn to draw his outs?
I played White Weenie in its very early forms, starting in 1994. Legends was just released upon the world, and Revised was the basic set. Everyone at my local store thought White was awful, with its damage prevention and sissy Circles of Protection. Because of this perception, I was able to aquire the aggressive White cards for a song and assemble a deck that did very well on the local tournament scene. Here’s how the deck looked after Fallen Empires delivered the first “pump knights.”
The Tundras were in there to enable Sleight of Mind from the sideboard, since a Dark Ritual/-powered Gloom was quite the suck on the first turn. Few things were more satisfying than having the Black player cast his first-turn Gloom, then Sleight it to Black and ensure he couldn’t even play so much as a Stone-Throwing Devils until the fourth turn. A 1/1 first striker for 3B, friends, is not good tech.
Look at how vital Crusade is here, though. The deck is composed of creatures costing only 1 or 2 mana. Playing the Crusade after dropping a couple guys on the board allows you to play another guy after you smash your opponent’s face that turn. Glorious Anthem would likely give you no such benefit. This is especially important with Armageddon in the deck, since the mana saved on Crusade is another creature to make the ‘Geddon lock even more devastating for your opponent. I kept this deck together for years after its importance and innovation had faded, and I tried Glorious Anthem in it when Urza’s Sage was released. My suspicions were confirmed: Crusade was a hundred times better.
It’s easy to see that Glorious Anthem won this vote, and currently pollutes 9th Edition, because of casual players. Because they don’t play in tournaments, they don’t understand the importance of the extra points of damage Crusade lets you deal in the first few turns. Because many casual players play multiplayers, they have The Fear that Crusade is going to be better for their opponent(s), and Glorious Anthem is the nice safe choice. I’m not blaming casual players here, mind you, nor am I impugning them for deciding something based on the way they play. We were all casual players at one point, and casual variants of the game like DC-10 or Elder Dragon Highlander are crazy fun, even to a cynical tournament veteran like yours truly. The fact of the matter is that competitive players and casual players evaluate and value cards differently. The result is that tournament players were left with an inferior, less efficient card.
So, is there a way to fix this? How can WOTC maintain the “Selecting Xth Edition” feature and satisfy both casual and competitive players? I’m not sure there’s an easy answer here. It’s possible to structure votes around cards that would only be used by casual players, e.g. Blatant Thievery vs. Thieves Auction. The problem there is that competitive players are alienated from that vote. A choice between two darling cards of the tournament scene could alienate the casual crowd, and since they’re about 80% of Magic players, that would be a bad thing. The current system, warts and all, is the best way for the players to have a say in the cards that make it to the basic sets. Occasionally, these votes will highlight the casual-competitive divide that exists, but as we've seen here, most of the 8th Edition earned a thumbs-up.
Looking back on the “Selecting 8th Edition” votes, I think they went pretty well overall. There was a colossal mistake in the selection of Glorious Anthem over Crusade, a fairly large mistake in the selection of Rewind over Dismiss, and an arguable mistake in the choice of Birds of Paradise and Vine Trellis over Llanowar Elves and Utopia Tree. Still, the Magic players of the world got most of the votes right, and that’s encouraging.
This was 8th Edition, from the voice of the people.